Two episodes into “Rick and Morty” Season 7 and you’ll be begging to talk about the metaphoric Gromflomite in the room. Justin Roiland is out and, while the two voice actors replacing him as the titular mad scientist and his grandson are strong sound-alikes (their identities have yet to be revealed even to critics), you’d think the smartest Adult Swim show in the multi-verse would have a cleverer response than this to its unceremonious kneecapping.
The dark animated sci-fi series earned its spot in the influential cartoon canon by playing to the top of its intelligence in a sandbox of infinite dimensions where main characters multiply, mutate, and swap realities constantly. There have been specific efforts to hem in that exponentially expanding concept; see the functional reset of dimension C-131 in Season 6’s “Solaricks.” But broadly speaking, the saga has upped the ante by continuously contorting its central story to give even the most minor discrepancies between episodes fascinating new meaning in a nonlinear arc.
It’s a bit of a wonder then that Season 7’s first two installments — titled “How Poopy Got His Poop Back” and “The Jerrick Trap” — entirely ignore the starring duo’s recasting. There’s no throat-clearing quip from Rick or voice-cracking moment of insecurity from Morty; much less a self-aware plot development like the brilliant “Big Mouth” reckoning of Jenny Slate. (The white actress voiced a half-Black character for multiple seasons of the Netflix puberty comedy before stepping down from the part in an excellent episode designed to unpack racial code-switching at the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement.)
No, instead of addressing the Roiland controversy, “Rick and Morty” Season 7 simply trudges on: sounding a little different, looking just the same, and delivering jokes that are funny enough for a show that maybe shouldn’t have received a staggering 70-episode order back in 2018. At a total series run of 61 episodes to date (31 had already aired at the time of the order), we’re less than halfway through that history-making leap-turned-flop of faith. And with so much runway to work with, it’s oddly baffling to realize that last-man-standing/co-creator Dan Harmon opted to keep things for the Smith/Sanchez clan shuffling in place before picking a bold new path for their troubled but contractually guaranteed TV show.
Episode 1 sees fan-favorite Mr. Poopy Butthole (another anonymous recasting, likely one of the new stars) returning in dire straits. He’s struggling with alcoholism, on the outs with his family, and crashing with the Smiths — forcing the infamously toxic Rick to round up Bird Person, Squanchy, Gear Head, and next-door neighbor Gene for an intervention. Episode 2 is a special Rick and Jerry episode that takes a similar back-to-basics approach, finding renewed sweetness in the in-laws’ storied tension through an adventure that sees Morty kidnapped by Soprano-sounding gangsters from the intergalactic Crimetown. The latter episode is particularly endearing in its premise, but both ultimately feel like filler.
The creative team behind “Rick and Morty” is stuck in an unenviable position, of course. Even indirectly, they’re answering for Roiland’s disastrous public image in the wake of numerous sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse allegations. The series’ co-creator was charged with “one felony count of domestic battery with corporal injury” and “one felony count of false imprisonment by menace, violence, fraud and/or deceit” in Orange County, California back in summer 2020; but the allegations were not publicly reported until January 2023. At that time, Adult Swim severed ties with the multi-hyphenate animator and began its search for new talent. (The criminal charges against Roiland have since been dropped due to insufficient evidence.)
The SAG-AFTRA strike kicked off in mid-July (yes, voice actors are covered by that agreement), meaning the “Rick and Morty” team only had six or so months to grapple with Roiland’s downfall before the entire cast stopped working. Maintaining this level of quality is impressive under those circumstances, Still, it bears repeating: they did have those six months. And postponing Season 7 was at least theoretically possible. In fact, “Rick and Morty” was once so erratic in its release schedule that Mr. Poopy Butthole himself sent off Seasons 2 and 4 joking about how long their respective hiatuses might be. (“Tune into ‘Rick and Morty’ Season 3 in like…a year in a half. Or longer!”) If Harmon wanted to buy his creatives more time to do something more meaningful, there’s a real chance he could have.
But as it stands, Season 7 reads as a passable but uninspired effort to maintain the status quo. You’ll probably laugh at the celebrity cameos they’ve got in store and both stories feel true to the universe and are executed well. But at a crossroad for “Rick and Morty” — a series famous for tightly crafted plot construction featuring unafraid improvisation that’s at its best when nailing self-deprecating meta humor — missed opportunities this major can mean the difference between becoming a show that’s temporarily middling or turning into a genre mainstay that’s permanently mediocre.
There’s also an ickiness inherent to withholding the names of the actors taking over for Roiland until air time. “We want the show to speak for itself,” Adult Swim said in a statement. “We believe in the strength of the season and our new voices and we want to preserve the viewing experience for fans.” A more cynical read would be to see the move as a self-made news item tied to the Season 7 premiere: a cheap grab for free marketing and goosed ratings that at its core capitalizes on some horrible allegations involving young girls.
Perhaps it’s too bold for his blood these days, but Harmon seemed ready to push for female-centric narratives with the propping up of the Beths in Seasons 5 and 6, and given the nature of Roiland’s controversy, it could have been wise to keep pursuing that pivot. Two weeks in, Season 7 moves in the opposite direction — re-centering Rick and Morty as the leads without seriously evolving them and once again sidelining Summer and the Beths to give Jerry more time on screen. It’s business as usual, sure. But when you’re in the business of doing the unusual, doing the same thing isn’t always doing enough.
Unless “Rick and Morty” is finally taking a page out of the “Bob’s Burgers” book and one of these newbies turns out to be a woman — and the anonymity is really just a backdoor move to keep sexist trolls at bay during the beginning of this voice actress’ “Rick or Morty” tenure — Adult Swim has missed a major opportunity to take its flagship problem child in a brighter, better direction.
“Rick and Morty” Season 7 premieres on Adult Swim October 15 at 11 p.m. ET with new episodes expected to air every Sunday for ten weeks.